Introduction to Aromatherapy

by Penny Price February 13, 2020 12 min read

Introduction to Aromatherapy

Introduction to Aromatherapy
Penny Price

Aromatherapy has become very popular over recent years. It is a label that is generally added to anything that smells. The word ‘aromatherapy’ is used as an adjective rather than being given the dignity it deserves as an art form in its own right. Shampoo with the word aromatherapy on the bottle usually just means it has a nice fragrance, rather than being clinically active!

Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy, to be used alongside other therapies and I don’t recommend that it be used as an alternative therapy. In complementary therapy we respect the fact that each branch of medicine contributes something necessary to the whole treatment of an individual. So, for instance, stress may be better treated by aromatherapy and the natural oils, while some more acute conditions are referred to a physician, or those illnesses that require invasive treatment, (as some do) are referred to a surgeon. Awareness of the limitations of essential oils is very important. Aromatherapy is a treatment not just for disease but for the whole of life.

Recent History

Plant ‘medicine’ has been around for thousands of years, and essential oils are mentioned in the Bible and other great books. However, the actual history of ‘aromatherapy’ as such is rather brief, since the term was only coined in the 1920’s by Dr Rene Gattefosse. Gattefosse - a French chemist- investigated the antiseptic properties of essential oils because he had re-discovered the healing properties of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Gattefosse wrote the first book on aromatherapy, which was published in 1937 and translated into English in 1993.

It was not until the late 1950's that Marguerite Maury introduced the use of essential oils under the name "aromatherapy" into Britain - through beauty therapists, who were qualified in massage techniques and learned to use ready-mixed aromatherapy oils. ‘English-style’ aromatherapy is the combining of massage with essential oils and carriers.

Pioneers such as Micheline Arcier, Robert Tisserand and Shirley Price have furthered the cause of aromatherapy in Britain and have, between them, largely made aromatherapy as popular as it is today. In particular, Shirley Price was the first aromatherapy tutor to teach students to mix and blend their own therapeutic preparations rather than using ready-prepared blends. From this grew the philosophy of treating each client as an individual rather than just one of many suffering from a similar disorder.

In more recent years, hospitals have used aromatherapy for non-invasive treatment, albeit mainly for palliative care rather than for their many pharmacological properties.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are aromatic plant extracts composed only of the volatile molecules from the plants concerned. A volatile (from the Latin volare, meaning ‘to fly’) is defined as evaporating or vaporising readily under normal conditions. All aromatic substances are volatile.

These molecules are usually divided into three separate groups for general therapeutic qualities. The lighter (i.e. more volatile) molecules are known as ‘top notes’, the heavier molecules ‘base notes’ and the ones in between are termed ‘middle notes’.

Base Notes:Mainly sedative and calming to the individual (containing mostly low volatility molecules) e.g. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis).

Middle Notes: are mainly balancing, although they have a wide range of therapeutic qualities (containing a balance of low, middle and high volatility molecules) e.g. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).

Top Notes: are mainly uplifting and energising (containing mostly highly volatile molecules) e.g. Mandarin (Citrus reticulata).

How we obtain Essential Oils

Essential oils can occur in practically every part of a plant, for example:

  • Berries

Black Pepper, Juniper

  • Flowers

Jasmine, Rose, Neroli, Ylang

  • Flowering Tops

Clary Sage, Oregano

  • Leaves

Basil, Eucalyptus, Melissa, Peppermint

  • Resin

Benzoin, Myrrh, Frankincense

  • Rhizome


  • Rind

Bergamot, Lemon, Orange, Lime

  • Root

Vetiver, Spikenard

  • Seeds

Coriander, Dill, Fennel

  • Wood

Sandalwood, Rosewood, Cedarwood

The essential oils are contained in glands, veins, sacs and glandular hairs and a variety of techniques are available for obtaining this valuable product.

Essential oils are usually extracted by a process of steam distillation.

This is where steam vapour is forced through the aromatic plant, and this carries the essential oils out of the plant to be condensed back again to water and essential oil at the end of the process.

Storage of Essential Oils

All distilled essential oils can last for many years if stored correctly. For health and safety reasons, shelf-life of about 7 – 10 years is usually recommended for distilled essential oils. Citrus oils should be kept for a maximum of 3 years from purchase.

Essential oils need to be kept inairtight bottles as air causes the oil to oxidise and eventually break down. The bottles themselves should beamber glass or black glassto keep out the damaging rays of white light. Glass is preferable to plastic as the oils do not interact chemically with it. Undiluted essential oils will slowly disintegrate plastic.

To keep all your essential oils, including citrus oils, at their best, store in a box at room temperature, and replace all lids firmly after use.

Olfaction – the way we smell

Olfaction is the sense of smell and how it functions from nose to brain. The nasal cavity has a dual function: a passageway for respiration and sense of smell.

We are talking about two quite separate things that happen when you breathe in an essential oil:

  1. The sense of smell
  2. Substances taken in by the lungs, and respiration in general

In the first, the message contained in the oil molecules is passed on to the brain. In the second the molecules themselves are inhaled with the incoming air and carried into the lungs. Here they take part in a process called the ‘exchange of gases’, which enables them to be assimilated by the body tissues. Either situation is good, and breathing in essential oils is the quickest way to get them into the body and feel a benefit from. If you are suffering from anxiety, stress, insomnia or other mental unwellness, inhalation is the most useful method of use – simply add 4-5 drops to a vaporiser or put the same amount on a tissue and keep it tucked in your clothing near your chest.

Essential oils that are useful for stress

There are a large amount of essential oils that are useful for stress and mental wellbeing. Price and Price suggest that ‘up to four different essential oils may be needed to treat stress holistically. Together they will enhance each other’s effects i.e. a synergy with be created’.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender is probably the best-known oil for stress and its reputation is well deserved. One of the reasons that lavender is so versatile is that its action is primarily balancing and normalising. Therefore, it can be used in many different situations to restore an unbalanced and therefore diseased state to one of normality and health.

The properties of lavender are due to its high level of esters making it good for de-stressing, relaxing, soothing and calming the nerves and generally balancing emotions. There have been plenty of studies concluding that Lavender is very helpful in the treatment of depression but also some of the side effects such as insomnia and fatigue. I suggest Lavender for depression with headaches and insomnia.

Gabriel Mojay calls Lavender an ‘aromatic “rescue remedy”, it works to calm any strong emotions that threaten to overwhelm the mind’. He goes on to describe it as easing nervous tension and allaying feelings of panic and hysteria.

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)

Frankincense resin as incense has been burned as part of religious and cultural ceremonies for millennia and is believed to contribute to the spiritual exaltation associated with such events. It is thought to affect human consciousness, emotions and cognition.

Frankincense is often diffused in meditation practice as it slows the breathing and calms the mind. It is valuable for its effect on the mind being both soothing and stimulating at once. It can help a depressed person to get moving again, to rekindle friendships or take up neglected activities. It seems to be particularly helpful for people suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences in their past. It excellent for treating both nervous tension and nervous exhaustion, and can help stop ‘mental chatter’. A great oil for meditation.

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

Bergamot oil is known for its uplifting qualities and its ability to reduce anxiety, often a quick inhalation of this oil can calm and relax someone in a tense situation. The chemical components are sedative and have a direct calming effect on the central nervous system. Bergamot has the ability to uplift without being stimulating so can be used at any time of the day.

In her research into treating depression and anxiety with aromatherapy, a Penny Price trained aromatherapist, Katie Lemon chose Bergamot for its ability to lift someone out of depression. ‘It can stimulate or sedate the nervous system according to the individual needs, relieving anxiety and calming fears.’ The result of her study which involved several other essential oils led her to conclude that ‘the holistic use of aromatherapy had a beneficial therapeutic effect on clients who were more than mildly depressed or anxious.’

Price and Price suggest using Bergamot for anxiety, depression, agitation, insomnia and irritability. They also recommend Bergamot for depression and the immune system, stating ‘it will recharge the central nervous system with energy and therefore indirectly helping to strengthen the immune system’.

Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)

The essential oil of chamomile contains a high content of components which are gentle and generally sedative. Chamomile is used for insomnia, irritability, migraines, nervous depression and nervous shock. Chamomile is also said to be effective in calming down annoyance, anger and irritation particularly in small children.

Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)

Mandarin has an uplifting action on the mind and its particular use is to clear the mind and to blow away the cobwebs. This combined with its slightly hypnotic action makes it ideal for insomnia where the mind is overactive, or whenever there is a need to ‘switch off’. It shares the uplifting effect with other citrus oils but has a more pronounced action on depression when it is linked to a feeling of weakness, fragility, poor appetite or other digestive disorders. Its cheering, uplifting and relaxing aroma is ideal for treating negative emotional conditions such as anxiety, nervous tension, stress, irritability, restlessness and tantrums.

Neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara)

Neroli is often referred to as ‘Aromatherapy’s rescue remedy’ as just inhaling it can be so useful in times of stress and anxiety. It is indicated for mood swings which is helpful when someone is feeling very stressed but also it is a mild sedative and has been described as having hypnotic effects as well.

A study on the use of Neroli oil on menopausal women to help with stress and menopausal systems concluded that ‘neroli oil may have potential as an effective intervention to reduce stress and improve the endocrine system.’

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

Geranium has natural anti-depressant and stress relieving properties. This oil uplifts mood and also helps to calm anxiety and nervous tension brought on by stress.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)

Sweet marjoram is particularly useful for dealing with the physical as well as the emotional symptoms of stress. In massage blends it excels for muscular aches and pains and muscle spasms, all of which can be caused by stress and tension. It is also an effective relaxant making it ideal for use at bedtime to help insomnia caused by stress.

Marjoram induces a calming, relaxing and sedating effect on the mind and the body. It relieves nervous stress and anxiety. It also gives a happy feeling in cases of anger or sadness. This property can be helpful to pacify people who suffered a shock or setback in life.

Vetiver (Vertivera zizanioides)

Traditionally, vetiver oil has been used in aromatherapy for relaxation and alleviating emotional stress, panic attacks, trauma, anxiety, insomnia, hysteria and depression. In India it is known as the ‘oil of tranquillity’ due to its ability to soothe nervous states. Vetiver is particularly recommended for agitation as it is so calming to the central nervous system.


Sleep is essential to our overall wellbeing and getting a regular good night's sleep is incredibly important for your health. In fact, it's just as important as eating healthy and exercising. Unfortunately, the environment that many of us are living in is interfering with natural sleep patterns.

We enter and leave the workplace in the dark seeing no daylight and thus our pineal gland which creates melatonin (the hormone responsible for our sleep pattern) is unable to perform properly. People are now sleeping less than they did in the past, and sleep quality has decreased as well.

Aromatherapy can help promote restful sleep as it affects the limbic system which in turn has an effect on the hypothalamus and the pineal gland amongst other important brain functioning organs.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has long been known for its ability to help aid restful sleep, in one particular study Moss et al. (2003) found inhalation of lavender for 5 minutes significantly reduced working memory, reaction times and attention in memory and attention based tasks compared to controls, suggesting a central nervous system depressant effect. This is important in this day and age as so many of us struggle to switch off from our hectic lives.

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) has a beautiful calming scent that has been shown to produce a sedative effect by acting upon the autonomic nervous system and shifting its balance more towards the Parasympathetic system instead. This means that it takes the body from a stressed alert state back into its relaxed one.

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) has been shown to exert sedative and anxiolytic creating its calming effects. The same would go for many citrus oils as they are often primarily limonene but as bergamot has the softer more comforting scent it is the better one to use at night.

Try blending these three oils together for a balanced blend of equal top, middle and base notes into a bath oil to help wind down at night.

Recipe for Bath Oil:

  • 100ml Carrier Oil
  • 10 drops Lavender
  • 10 drops Cedarwood
  • 10 drops Bergamot

Apply 5 – 10mls in the bath or use as body oil up to twice a day

Or you could create a luxury hand cream that you apply just before going to bed to feel the full benefits and help get a good night’s sleep.

Recipe for Hand Cream:

  • 50ml Massage Cream base
  • 10 drops Lavender
  • 10 drops Frankincense
  • 10 drops Chamomile

You can try popping 1 or 2 drops of an oil such as lavender on a tissue and popping it on your pillow however do not put too many on thinking it will knock you out. Especially since 2 drops of true lavender will certainly promote sleep, but 10 drops will have the opposite effect and keep you awake.


According to a new WHO study:

  • Depression rates are significantly higher in affluent nations
  • Cases of major depression are on the rise throughout the world.

The study concludes that depression is a severe global problem that will change from being the world’s fourth leading cause of disability worldwide, to being the second leading cause of disability by 2020.

Melissa officinalis has been used for the longest time as a treatment for depression. Paraclesus called it the “elixir of life.” Culpepper said that it “driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind.” Lawless suggests that on an emotional level Melissa is outstanding, having traditionally been used as a tonic for the heart and a remedy for the ‘distressed spirit.’

Ho wood (Cinnamomum camphora) has a beautiful, light, woody-scent that is calming, relaxing and peace-inducing for the mind and body. The main chemical component is linalool, which has been found to have a relaxing effect upon the central nervous system.

Clove (Syzigium aromaticum) is the oil of boundaries. It supports individuals in letting go of victim mentality or victims feel overly influenced by other people and the outside circumstances. Clove helps individuals to stand up for themselves, be proactive, and feel capable of making their own decisions, regardless of others’ opinions and it gives individuals the courage to say “no” and insists individuals to live true to themselves.

There are a variety of ways in which we can create an effective blend for depression and it depends on the person and their experience of depression. We may choose to create a bath oil for someone or perhaps a nasal inhaler that is very portable and easy for someone to manage. It might be that oils are too greasy for them so a body lotion to rub in would be better.

Recipe for Bath Oil:

  • 100ml Carrier Oil
  • 10 drops Ho Wood
  • 5 drops Mandarin
  • 5 drops Ylang
  • 10 drops Lavender

Apply 5 – 10mls in the bath or use as body oil up to twice a day

Recipe for Nasal Inhaler:

  • 1 x Nasal Inhaler
  • 10 drops Neroli
  • 10 drops Clove
  • 10 drops Bergamot

Keep in an everyday bag and bring out and inhale when necessary.

Penny Price Aromatherapy Essential Oil Nurture Blends

Penny Price Nurture blendsare carefully selected essential oils that have been blended together to create different aromas for your bath, vaporiser and massage oil. Using only the best quality essential oils nurture blends are created for use by all in their day to day life. Nurture essential oil blends are a useful tool in any home and promote wellbeing in mind, body and spirit.

Below is our range:

Nurture: Clarity: A relaxing, clearing blend, beneficial for hangovers, apathy and confusion, giving a feeling of clarity. Contains essential oils of Lavandin, cornmint, basil and Roman chamomile.

Nurture: Courage: This pure essential oil blend is designed to help increase confidence and courage and can be inhaled regularly for a spiritually strengthening effect. Contains lavandin, melissa, cornmint and basil.

Nurture: Joy: A beautiful, uplifting blend to help bring joy to the heart and soul. Contains rosewood, bergamot, rose Otto and eucalyptus (staigeriana).

Nurture: Love: A carefully chosen blend of essential oils to warm the heart. The blend can also be used in the bedroom. Contains rosewood, ylang ylang, jasmine and lavandin

Nurture: Meditation: A spiritual blend of essential oils to help promote thought and concentration. Use regularly for good effect. Contains frankincense, rosemary, basil and lavender.

Nurture: Peace: This popular blend is an invaluable aid to relaxation after a busy or stressful day. It eases feelings of tiredness, leaving you happier and more relaxed. Mixed with lavender, rosewood, juniper and geranium.

Nurture: Purification: These essential oils have been chosen to help cleans and detoxify the mind and spirit to bring newness of thought and being. Contains: cypress, bitter orange, basil and sweet marjoram.

Nurture: Spirituality: A blend of essential oils to help create mental vision, clarity and peace. Used regularly the oils can help bring a state of calm and oneness with the world. Contains: frankincense, cedarwood, patchouli and eucalyptus (staigeriana).

If you need any further help or for personalised advice.

Penny Price
Penny Price

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